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Top baby sleep mistakes - and how to avoid them

Getting your baby or toddler to bed without putting up a fuss can be quite a challenge – and sometimes parents actually contribute to the problem, say sleep experts. See if you're prone to any of these sleep-sabotaging behaviors, and learn the easy workaround. #BabySleep #BabySleepMistakes #HappyBaby #MondayMorningMomsChildCare #MontgomeryCountyMDChildCare Photo credit: / swilmor

1. Letting your baby or toddler stay up late

Maybe you keep your infant or toddler up to play because you don't have much time with him after work. Or you've developed the habit of putting him to bed just before you retire for the night. Here's why that's a problem: Late bedtimes lead to an overtired kid who's cranky and refuses to go to sleep.

The fix: Set (and stick to) an appropriate bedtime. Read our article on baby sleep needs to figure out the best bedtime for your child. Just as important, watch for signs that he's getting tired, such as droopy eyelids or eye-rubbing. If you tuck him into bed when he's drowsy but not overtired or completely asleep, it will be easier for him to learn to fall asleep on his own.

As your child gets older, plan his extracurricular activities around regular bedtimes and nap times so he's more likely to get the sleep he needs.

2. Relying on motion

There's nothing wrong with rocking your little one to relax her before bedtime – just make sure you don't rock her to sleep. She might grow to depend on it to fall asleep, which means she'll need the same attention every time she wakes up during the night.

Relying on motion can also affect the quality of your child's sleep. "If the child is always sleeping in motion – in strollers or cars – she probably doesn't get the deep, more restorative sleep due to the stimulation of motion," says Marc Weissbluth, pediatrician and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. He likens the quality of motion-induced sleep for children to the type of sleep an adult might get on an airplane.

The fix: Use motion for calming, not napping or sleeping. Try not to rely on car rides, infant swings, or walks in the stroller to get your baby to sleep. If your baby starts nodding off in a swing or car seat, quietly move her to a crib as soon as you can.

3. Introducing distractions at bedtime

You might think an eye-catching mobile, cheerful night-light, or quiet music would help your baby fall asleep. Instead, they can distract your baby and keep him awake.

The fix: Keep your baby's room dark and quiet. Remove anything that's remotely entertaining from around the crib. Infants and toddlers sleep best in rooms that are nearly pitch-black. Use a fan or white noise machine to muffle house or street sounds. Keep all screens out of the bedroom, including TVs, smartphones, and tablets. The light from electronic screens can cue the brain into thinking it's daytime and make it harder to rest.

4. Failing to establish a bedtime routine

If you're like most people, you have a routine that helps you wind down at the end of the day. Babies and toddlers are no different. Without a consistent routine every night, children have trouble settling down for bed, and sleep quality may suffer.

The fix: Create a comforting bedtime ritual. Children of almost any age benefit from following a series of steps leading to bedtime. For babies, a bedtime routine might include a bath, changing into pajamas, cuddling, and a story or lullaby. For toddlers, you could also sing a song or do a simple puzzle together.

If your child is at least 12 months old, offering her a favorite soft toy, blanket, or stuffed animal to take to bed can help bedtime go more smoothly – and comfort your child if she wakes during the night. Just be sure that stuffed animals don't have any pellets or stuffing coming out and whatever toy she chooses doesn't have ribbons, buttons, or other parts that might be choking hazards.

5. Picking up your baby as soon as he starts crying

When your baby starts crying at night, you may feel the urge to hurry over and feed him, check his diaper, or pick him up for a cuddle – but that deprives him of the chance to learn how to soothe himself back to sleep.

The fix: Wait a few minutes before going to your baby. Just like adults, babies naturally wake up several times a night. Since they aren't born knowing how to settle themselves back down to sleep, they need the opportunity to learn. When your baby cries, give him a few moments to self-soothe – by finding a thumb to suck or knuckle to gnaw on, for example. And one day he'll fall back to sleep without needing a thing from you.

6. Putting your baby to bed with a bottle

A bottle at bedtime can soothe your baby to sleep, but it does have risks. For example:

She may start to rely on the bottle to fall asleep.It may be harder to wean him from the bottle once he's ready to start drinking from a cup.She may choke on the liquid.He's more likely to get ear infections.She has a greater risk of tooth decay.

The fix: Save the bottle for mealtime, not bedtime. Rely on a consistent bedtime routine and your baby will learn to settle down without the risks of a bottle habit that can be hard to break.

7. Sending mixed messages about where to sleep

Do you let your toddler climb into bed with you a couple times a week, maybe when he's especially fussy? The problem here is not the sleep method but the mixed message.

Many parents choose to sleep-share. Others may be surprised to find themselves with a family bed they didn't plan on, and this confusion can disrupt your child's sleep.

The fix: Set firm guidelines about where to sleep. It's best to decide whether you want a family bed early on, but it's never too late to establish rules. If you want to end the nighttime visits, explain to your toddler the reasons he should stay in his own bed for the whole night. You could tell him everyone sleeps better, for example.

Don't scold or talk to your child when he comes to your room at night. Just lead him gently back to his room, tuck him in, say, "Good night, sweet dreams," and close the door behind you. Responding consistently like this for a week or two should help your child learn to sleep through the night in his own room.

8. Allowing bedtime to become a battleground

If you've resigned yourself to nightly negotiations with your toddler (who keeps asking for another story or song), you're not alone. As children exercise their growing independence, they often test limits by resisting bedtime. But allowing your child to continue pushing back sets up an unhealthy pattern of frustration and lost sleep.

The fix: Stay calm and be strategic. You can avoid nightly battles by anticipating needs, setting and enforcing rules, and letting your child have a say in her bedtime routine.

Try heading off a toddler's diversion tactics by taking care of her needs before bedtime so she won't use them as an excuse to get out of bed. Get her a last sip of water, for instance, or help her pick out a soft toy or stuffed animal to take to bed.

Another way to prevent nighttime battles is to give your toddler a choice. A nightly routine and regular bedtime will go down much easier with kids testing boundaries if you let them have a say in how they go to bed. For example, tell your child you'll sing only two lullabies before turning out the lights, but she can pick which ones.

Above all, be consistent about the sleep routine. A predictable nighttime ritual gives your child a sense of security, making it easier for her to wind down at night and wake up feeling refreshed.

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